Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Banner Day

I've quit writing a hundred times. Probably more, because it's broken my heart at least a thousand times.

But today was NOT one of those days.

Today is a banner day for me. One as big for me as the day I first held my children. And a day that I thought would never come when I began my first book, seven years ago this week in snowy Vladivostok, Russia.

I came home after a terrible 12 hour day at my day job to find that for December and January, I have earned more from writing than I earned from said day job.

I can't believe it.

I remember sitting in my hotel room while Max slept and bounding out the beginings of my first novel. I never finished that book, but I still have it. It is a story near and dear to my heart and I hope someday I will be a good enough writer to do justice to it.

I put it away years ago and started another story that became my novel, Coming Home.

I never thought much about making money. I started writing because I had a story to tell, not because I ever thought it would make me rich and famous. I've kept writing for all of these years because I learned just because you've told one story, doesn't mean another isn't right around the corner of your mind.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another great shopping trip(s)

I'm trying to really shop only once a month, then just get the fresh things. This week Kroger had a GREAT sale.  My before coupons total was $549.00! But after coupons and the buy 10/get $5.00 off deals my total was only $249!  That was a savings of over 50%.  Not quite on par with the extreme couponers, but quite a great save for our little family. Especially since I only purchase the things we actually need/will use in a reasonable amount of time.  Some of the good deals that come to mind were:

French's Mustard, $1.19, less a $0.30 coupon that doubled to $.60, and the $0.50 cents off for a total cost of 10 cents per bottle.

Hunts canned tomatoes, $1.58 ea, with a $0.50 coupon off two that doubled to $1.00 and $0.50 cents off each can for the buy 10 promotion and these were 8 cents a can!

10 boxes of kraft mac and cheese: Buy 10, get $5.00 (I know it's not so healthy, but there we do purchase the whole wheat variety, and add pureed veggies instead of butter. Besides, what's childhood without boxed mac and cheese?
My second shopping trip of the weekend was to CVS where I got all of this great stuff:

Transaction #1

Noxema Face Cream  Regular Price, 5.49, sale price 3.39 plus $5.00 Extra Care Dollars
Blistex Revive and Renew, 3.49, on sale for 2.87 with $2.00 Extra Care Dollars
Dial New Skin Lotion, 7.00, on sale for 4.88 less $1.00 manufacture's coupon and
Right Gaurd Total Defense 4.59 each, one on sale for 1.14 and one on sales for 2.29, less a manufacturer's coupon for 1.00 each make $0.71 each plus $5.00 Extra Care Dollars
Listerine Total Care, 7.49 and 4.49 less 41.00 coupon for each plus $5.00 Extra Care Dollars
Doritos Regular Price, 4.29 each, Sale Price, 2/$6.00 plus $1.00 Extra Care Dollars

Total for Transaction #1: 

-17.46 CVS Sales
-   4.35  Manufacturer's Coupons
 -10.00 Gift Card from Previous Visit
*$16.00 Extra Care Dollars to use on Transaction #2

Transaction #2:

8 2 Liter Bottles of Diet Coke, Diet Sprite and Coke Zero 4/$5 * 2 = 10.00 Regular Price $1.87, saved $4.96 Less 4 $0.99 coupons
4 12 Packs Coke Products  2/$5.00 * 2 = 10.00 Regular Price $5.99, Saved $13.96
1 can Planters Cashews Regular Price, 6.49 Sale Price, 3.00
Charmin, Regular Price 15.99, Sale Price, 9.99

Total for Transaction #2

-24.19 CVS Sales
-  6.00 Manufacture's Coupons
-16.00 Extra Care $ from Transaction #1
* Earned $10.00 CVS Gift Card

Transaction #3

Colgate Toothpaste Regular Price, $4.29  Sale Price $2.09 Less $1 coupon
Natures Bounty Vitamin, $18.49 Buy One, Get One plus 2 $1.10 Coupons
Visine Allergy, Buy One, Get One 1/2 off. Regular Price, $4.39 Less 2 $2.00 Coupons

Total for Transaction #3

-29.05 CVS Sales
   -7.20 Manfacturer's Coupons
-10.00 CVS Gift Card from Transaction #2

Total Cash outlay for $164.99 worth of merchandise:  $40.74

Total Savings of $124.25 or 75.3%

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Parmesan Couscous with Carmelized Onions

Tonight I put this meal together in about 15 minutes.

I seasoned chicken breast with some kinda herbal rub I had in the pantry and browned them in a saute pan. Once they were seared on both sides I deglazed the pan with a bit of chicken stock, reduced to medium hear and covered to cook though.

While those bubbled away, I sauteed a small onion in the butter (add salt now), added garlic when it was just starting to brown, then the chicken stock.  Bring the chicken stock to a boil, dump in the couscous and stir.  Cover tightly and turn off the heat.  Let set for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and add the other tablespoon of butter and 1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Add another pat of butter to the reduced chicken broth in the saute pan and drizzle sauce over chicken.

Cover again and allow cheese and butter to melt. I got busy with one of the little mouths and had to heat it again. I just added a bit more chicken broth and turned on the flame. 

Cook your favorite veggie and add it to the couscous for added nutrition. We microwaved some frozen carrots and mixed them it as well. I added some black olives to mine, too. It was really great and everyone gave it a thumbs up. Here's the recipe!

Parmesan Couscous with Carmelized Onions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
½ teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups couscous (12 ounces)
½ cup Parmesan cheese

Friday, January 13, 2012

Snow Day! Homemade Scented Play Dough

Today is a snow day in our little corner of the world.  Thankfully, we don't have to go out and we can curl up by the fire and read for hours.  NOT! 

The little mouths have been outside and played with at least a hundred different toys. They know better than to use the "B" (bored) word around me because that will get them a scrub brush and something to clean or something equally horrible, like cleaning their rooms.

Lately, the little, Little Mouth has been struggling with his penmanship at school. One of the things his teacher suggested was to play with Play Dough to build up the muscles in his hands.  We hauled out the old Play Dough bucket this morning and all of the Play-Dough was more than a bit past it's prime.

After an extensive search and retrieval mission for the Cream of Tartar, we were on our way to an afternoon of fun!

Homemade Scented Play Dough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons veg. oil
1 cup warm water
1 3 oz. package of flavored gelatin

Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium saucepan, off the heat.  Add warm water and oil and mix well.  The mixture will be quite runny at this time.

Cook over medium to medium-low heat. The mixture will start to thicken. At first it looked like it was curdling and it made me nervous, but if you keep stirring, it comes together and forms a ball.

Remove from heat and lay on the counter until it cools to the touch, then knead for a few minutes and it's done!  Feels great on cold hands, too!

Store in an air tight food storage bag or container.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Amazing shopping trip!

The bigger, Little Mouth is really getting into the couponing thing. She has always loved looking at ads, even when she was a little tyke, and I guess because it has to do with shopping, it's right up her alley.

Today we hit CVS and I was completely floored.  We got all of this (plus Jet Dry and Finish dishwasher tabs not pictured)...

For a total cash outlay of...get this...$14.62 and I still have a $10.00 CVS gift card to use next time, so the net of this shopping trip is $4.62!  I got all of this stuff for LESS that I would have paid for JUST the milk.

I even had to do two transactions, so that made me feel just like an extreme couponer.

It went like this~

Transaction #1
MC = Manufacturer's Coupon
EC$ = Extra Care $ to be used on a future purchase

3 Boxes of Reese's Puffs                    3/$10          $1.00 MC     Received $4 EC$
(not that healthy but the                                 
Little Mouths love to eat
them without milk for a
sweet snack)

1 package M&M Peanut Butter          $0.75                                  Recieved $0.75 EC$
2 gallons Dean Milk                       2 X $2.99                                Recieved $2 EC$
1 GE Light Bulb                                  $2.99                                  Recieved $2 EC$
1 Carmex Plus                                      $2.99         $1.50 MC
Colgate 360 toothbrushes                    2/$6            2*$.50MC       Recieved $4 EC$

This order came to a grand total of $25.21 but I had two $10.00 gift cards from last week. That brought this order to a total of $5.21 (plus tax)

Transaction #2
(the purpose of this transaction is to spend the $8.75 in EC$ that I got on the last transaction and to earn another CVS gift card to use next week)

                                                                    SALE PRICE
Lysol Wipes                                                   2/$5                      $1.00 MC
Finish Diswasher Detergent and Jet Dry       2/$7                      $0.75 and $0.55 MC
Clean and Clear Facial Scrub                        $4.99                    $2.00 MC
OB's                                                               $4.49 ea                3*$1.00 MC
The total for this order was $22.16 after coupons - $12.75 EC$ = $9.41 plus tax

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Mama's New Years Resolution

It's a new year and time for the you-know-what.  No, not diet, although that's on my to do list as well, but that other thing we all do around this time each year.  Make resolutions.  EEeekk!

Normally, I sit down with my pen on New Years Eve and begin listing all that's wrong with my life, and then I formulate a plan that even the most devout of resolutionists would have trouble sticking to.

Need to lose twenty pounds? A thousand calorie diet and an hour of exercise at 5 am should do the trick. Buried in debt from Christmas? Then no eating out until at least the Fourth of July.

You get the picture.

But this year I decided to try a more different approach.  Since I'm now only working part time so I can be closer to a full time Mommy, I've resolved to trying to live a more frugal life style. I'm not going to be weaving cloth anytime soon, but there are many things, I've learned, I can do to maximize our income without changing our lives very much.

Have you seen that show Extreme Couponing on TLC?  It's kind of like a train wreck for me and the Bigger Little Mouth as its a cross between that old game show Shop 'Till You Drop and Hoarders, but quite addictive, I must say.

I actually started couponing in December, and throughout the Christmas holidays I cashed in at CVS. Literally.  I funded all of the fun stuff during our recent vacation by using the CVS gift card promotions.  When you purchased $30 of specific merchandise ( before coupons) you got your choice of gift cards.  I got about a hundred dollars worth of cards, most Amex gift cards, then used coupons/CVS rewards to pay part of the bill (usually about $15.00 of the $30.00), thus making most of the purchases free or very lost cost items we use everyday such as TP, Papertowels, Cereal, Toothpaste, Hair Products, Cosmetics etc. etc.  So I would end up with $30 worth of merchandise + a $10 Amex gift card for around $15.00.

Very neat. 

This weekend I also utilized some restaurant coupons and we saved a ton.  Three adults, one teenager, three kids and baby ate out at Steak and Shake for only $25.00!  Eight people total and that included four adult meals, three kids meals, four regular sized milk shakes, two kid milkshakes and a side of applesauce.

This is how we did it. 

Last Sunday's newspaper contained a sheet of coupons.  We used the four meals (sandwich and fries) and four shakes for $19.95 coupon.  That took care of the three adults and the teenager.

They are also having a special promotion where kids eat free for each $8.00 you spend.  When we purchased two kid milkshakes for $2.19 each the three kids got free food and we added a side of applesauce with another coupon for 99 cents for the baby.

In my pre-frugal days, I would have easily spent $50 or $60 on the same or equivalent meal for two reasons. I didn't have the time to do my homework, I wasn't organized and I wouldn't have had the coupons handy and I would have been embarrassed to breakout the coupons when out with friends.

But you know what?  Almost everyone I know these days is on a budget. The other family with us appreciated the low cost of the meal and was more that happy to play along.  We had a great lunch with yummy milk shakes for dessert that neither of us had to prepare of clean up after and we had a great time. 

Thumbs up from all!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rockin' Recipe -- Cheesy Ranch Chex Mix

In an effort to keep preservatives at bay, I've been trying to forgo purchasing ready made treats and make them at home instead. 

This week I tried a favored Chex Mix and it got thumbs up from both Little Mouths and Big Mama, too...at least the second batch did.  I botched the first a little bit, but the second one was spot on!

Cheesy Ranch Chex Mix

9 Cups Chex Cereal (I used 2 cups wheat, 3 cups rice and 4 cups corn)
2 cups goldfish crackers
2 cups pretzel goldfish
3 teaspoons melted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 oz. package of Ranch Dip Mix

Mix the cereal, cracker and pretzels together.  Then drizzle the butter over and MIX!  VERY IMPORTANT.  I combined everything at once the first time and got a big ball of seasoning.  It was gross.

After the cereal and crackers are coated with the butter, add the seasoning mix and Parmesan.  Toss together and microwave for three minutes, pausing every minute to stir.

Cool on cookie sheets or waxed paper.  Store in airtight container.

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